Liberty in North Korea

By Jeannie Choi 08-14-2009

It's been more than a week since journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee returned to American soil, and the entire world is waiting on baited breath to hear their stories. The questions abound: How were they captured? How were they treated? Did they speak with any civilians? Did they gain insight into life inside the country that remains such a mystery? Did they meet Kim Jong Il?

What has been lost in all the media hubub regarding their return, however, is the plight of those they left behind -- the millions of ignored or forgotten North Koreans suffering from the worst human rights violations imaginable.

But one group of earnest mobilizers refuses to forget: LiNK, which stands for Liberty in North Korea, is a nonprofit organization that exists "so that one day, the crisis in North Korea will not." Begun with just five college students, today the organization has around 100 chapters in the U.S. and more than 10 chapters elsewhere in the world. LiNK also helps North Korean refugees get away from the Chinese border and into shelters throughout Southeast Asia and the United States. LiNK's founder, Adrian Hong, and five other members travelled to the North Korean/Chinese border and led three unaccompanied minors out of China.

I had the opportunity to interview one of the resettled minors, Joseph Kim. He's now working for LiNK in Torrance, Calif., sharing his testimony at their events, and lobbying for more stringent regulations on the treatment of North Korean refugees in China. Here is just a short excerpt from my interview with Joseph:

You were able to escape from North Korea to China. Share with me the story of your escape from North Korea.

It was very dangerous and I was scared. But I crossed the river. It was winter time so I walked on the ice, so that's how I crossed the river, but it was really difficult because there were many soldiers, like river guards. Their job was to catch persons who are trying to escape across the river. So it was very hard, but I can say it was good timing and I got good luck.

Definitely. You mentioned that your father passed away from starvation and your mother and sister are missing, that you don't know what has happened to them. Have you been trying to find them at all?

Yes I was, but as you know China's big and without [an] address, you cannot -- it's very hard to find [people]. But I'm still hoping that one day I can meet them and I'm still trying.

...

What message do you want to tell Americans, and what do you want Americans to know about North Korea?

I'd like to tell American people that Americans are very blessed and are very lucky, and I want them to know that North Koreans are starving and dying because of a piece of bread. They are dying. I want them to know that food is important and very precious for North Koreans. I'd like them to know that North Koreans are dying because of food.

(HEAR or READ the rest of this interview)

Most conversations I have with folks about North Korea have to do with Kim Jong Il or the threat of nuclear war. Rarely are folks like Joseph mentioned. But his are the stories we need to be hearing, lest we forget our brothers and sisters yearning for liberty in North Korea.

Jeannie ChoiJeannie Choi is an assistant editor at Sojourners. Read her commentary on LiNK in this month's issue of Sojourners magazine.

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